Our veterans are one of our most precious resources. In a time when war hovers ever-closer around the corner, and the threat of terrorism remains firmly entrenched in the minds of Americans, having a robust military is both a comfort and a necessity.
Here’s the catch: we rely on our veterans, but rarely do enough to support them before, during, and after extensive years in service. Unfortunately, the consequences of this lack of support are beginning to show. A new VA report highlights a disturbing trend: our youngest veterans are taking their own lives at an unprecedented rate.
How – and why – is this happening?
• First, let’s get the statistics out of the way. The report in question spans a little more than a decade – 2005 all the way through to 2016. It found that approximately 40.4 out of 100,000 veterans aged 34 or younger took their own lives in 2015 alone.
• According to the AFSP, the national average sits at only around 13.0 out of every 100,000 adults. Young veterans are taking their own lives at a rate nearly four times the national average. If you aren’t startled by that comparison, you should be.
• Unfortunately, the problem doesn’t appear to be slowing down. In fact, just one year later, in 2016, suicide rates for young veterans had increased by nearly 2.07 percent to settle in at 45.4 out of every 100,000.
• Let’s do some quick math. According to Pew Research, there were approximately 20.6 million veterans living in the United States in 2016. Dividing those 20.6 million veterans into groups of 100,000 people gives us approximately 206 groups, and 45.4 veterans within each group took their own lives. That means 9,352.4 veterans passed away from suicide in 2016 alone.
• 45.4 out of 100,000 might not sound that serious, but when you do the math out, it becomes clear that we have an epidemic on our hands. It means that nearly 20 veterans take their own lives, for a variety of reasons, every single day – mostly as a result of untreated or poorly treated mental illness.
• House Committee representative Phil Roe, M.D, spoke about the issue in a recent hearing. “We know from VA’s testimony that fourteen of those twenty veterans have not sought medical care at VA,” he said. “…only 30% of veterans who commit suicide have been to a VA campus for an appointment.”
• Veterans aren’t seeking help at VA campuses. It seems like a resolvable problem, right? Except there has to be a reason veterans aren’t reaching out, and the likelihood that it is the fault of the veteran is very low.
• Roe said it best in the hearing, mirroring what most of us are thinking. “What did these veterans, men and women who reached an appalling level of crisis, find lacking when they sought VA healthcare or what prevented them from seeking mental health services from VA in the first place?”
• Several other entities serving veterans spoke at the same hearing, pushing lawmakers to create new support options and improve the VA. Attendants included the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NIMH), Disabled American Veterans, the New York State Psychiatric Institute, the American Legion, the Whistleblowers of America, and several other expert organizations.
• Ultimately, both Roe and the organizations involved in this ground-level push for better care have the same goal. They want to prevent veterans from taking their own lives by improving care access and options. We promised these men and women they would have support when they returned home – why have we gone back on that promise? They deserve our support now more than ever.